Mill History

Early millers contributions to community life

Joseph Clapp, pioneer-miller, was born in 1762. Joseph’s father Elias Clapp died in Dutchess County, New York in 1776. He had ten surviving children of whom six emigrated to Canada. Joseph two of his sisters and a brother-in-law came in 1786 after Lord Simcoe, hoping to attract additional settlers northward, offered free land to all those who made an oath of loyalty to the King, and also agreed to build a house, clear five acres, and provide a road across the front of their allotment in the area of Hay Bay near Adolphustown. 17 years later Joseph while searching for a site to build his first mill, Joseph came across the headwaters of the Black River and realized this location was the most promising he had seen. When Joseph Clapp built the first mill a kilometre down from the falls at what was to become Milford in 1808, it was financed by, and on the property of Richard Cartwright. Joseph held the lease-rent agreement and first option to purchase.
Between 1808 and 1853, the population of this area increased from just two families ( Clapps and Garretts) to 275 residents because a mill site provided a natural place for people to get together. On the 1871 census there were 400 names. The hamlet soon became a village and when the 1849 Municipal Reform Act allowed communities limited powers of self government, Marysburgh became town with a civic government and the first town hall in Prince Edward County. Members of Clapp and Dodge families, the prosperous early millers, were both generous and active participants in the start up activities.

For example, early in 1832, Philip Clapp Sr. initiated mail service to the hamlet. He made weekly trips on solo horseback over rough terrain in the vicinity of what is now called Old Milford Road to establish communications between residents of this area and the settlement that became Picton. It is speculated that is was while on one of these journeys he was struck by lightening and died later same year at the age of 40. The tradition that he began of township millers also providing postal services from their homes to the surrounding community continued until Hiram Ellis retired in the early 20th century and old timers have noted that along with the change to a more bureaucratic system, there was a loss of service because when millers were also the postal agents, if they were at the mill one could buy postage or send a parcel.
The mill pond and the bridge dam are other village legacies of cooperative efforts of Joseph Clapp’s sons. By 1830, Philip Sr. realized that his lower three story mill did not have enough water power to meet demand. Although some historical sketches stress that after their father died, Philip treated his younger brothers unfairly, legal records prove that the brothers solved the water shortage problem through negotiation. To create a more stable source of water power, Philip was allowed to dam the Black River, but that would flood a lot of James’ farmland;  so the dam had a maximum height of 22′. This agreement establishes the high water mark for the Milford millpond and remains its limit today.

Philip Clapp Jr can be remembered for his generous contribution to religious and social life of the community. With a spirit of ecumenism that was unusual in his era, he in effect donated the land both for St Philip’s Anglican church (1849) and the the land for first Wesleyan Methodist church and sunday school (1858). The earliest education in Marysburgh was provided by itinerant teachers who worked for room and board and little else. During the boom years however, the Milford community built and maintained four schools within walking distance: Bond Street, Royal Street, Jackson’s Falls and South Bay.

The early millers were also prominent military and civic leaders establishing a tradition of community service which included participation in the militia, providing emergency services and the opening overland roads. The millers names appear frequently on motions in the minutes of the early township minutes. When in 1871 Marysburgh was divided, Nelson Dodge became the first Reeve of South Marysburgh (1871-72) and Robert Clapp was the second (1873-74). Continuing the tradition in later years, Reeve and miller, Carson Scott is remembered for organizing the workbees that made it possible for Ann Farwell and Jeanne Minhinnick to realize their goal of creating the first free rural library in Prince Edward County (1951).

Milling Families of Milford 1808-1907

In the years when milling was the economic foundation of this region, two families, the Clapps and the Dodges, controlled the local mills, each for approximately half of the century. Their combined knowledge, business acumen and community involvement were key stimulants to the region’s eurocentric development. Both families grew large and prosperous.
In the Clapp years, there were eight mill proprietors. In contrast, only Nelson Dodge and his son, Theodore, were mill proprietors.  The early deaths of both Joseph Clapp and his eldest son, Philip occurred during the years when this territory was rougher and less settled. The Dodge years, by comparison, were during a time of economic and social stability. The chart below provides details of tenure.

The Clapps
Joseph Clapp, who married the niece of another prominent miller, John Roblin, discovered the potential of the Black River as a source of industrial power. He persuaded Richard Cartwright Jr., the wealthy Kingstonian who owned most of Marysburgh, that he would be able to create a profitable saw mill here. Cartwright gave Joseph a lease with an option to buy, as well as the seed financing necessary to start Milford’s first saw mill. Behind what is now Hick’s Store, Joseph constructed the Black Creek or lower mill. Then to meet the first international and later local demand for lumber he envisioned a second mill on this site. It was to become known as the SawMill Creek or upper mill.
After working only four years, Joseph was able exercised his option to buy the lower mill. But  due to need to repel American aggression, later the same year, 1812, all the men of this district were called to arms in Kingston where Joseph died early in 1813. The completion of the mill projects he had initiated were left to his wife, Nancy Miller/Clapp/Short and his oldest son Philip. In only two more years, they saw them through to a successful conclusion and by 1814, the family were outright owners of the both the Milford mills. From that time until his death at age 40 in 1832,  Philip maintained ownership of the lower mill. Nancy and subsequently her younger sons and grandson managed the upper mill on this site until 1886 when it was sold to the Kirkpatricks by her grandson, Samuel.

The Dodges
Nelson Dodge began his Milford milling career in 1858 by contracting to operated Philip Clapp Jr.’s lower mill and in 1861 when Philip Jr. wanted to move out of the district, Nelson bought the entire property from him. Although there is little anecdotal history about the Dodge family, it is clear from Nelson’s will that he also prospered from milling. When he died in 1876, as well as establishing his sons in their own businesses, he left each of his three daughters $600 and his wife well provided for in a comfortable home with servants. Theodore, the oldest, inherited the mill and all the family land east and north of the Black River, his brother Frederick inherited the village store and their younger brother, Franklin the family farm.

The Scotts
In less than 2 years the Kirkpatricks resold the upper mill to William B. Scott, a gentleman farmer and pen artist. After William’s death in 1921, his son, Lee, continued grinding buckwheat and sawing logs for the local market at the Upper Mill on the road bearing the named of their family. However, the era when Marysburgh’s milling industry produced goods for export to world markets, had ended when Clapps still owned it and the Dodge family owned the lower mill.

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